Conscious that the final resolution to the war would be critical to the Zionist claims on Palestine, their British and American leaders became increasingly involved in a secretive network aimed at influencing government policy. The three month period between April and June 1917 was peppered with urgent cables between Louis Brandeis in Washington and, Chaim Weizmann and James Rothschild in London, updating each other about privileged meetings, current opinions and actions to be taken to advance the Zionist plan. [1] Unknown to elected politicians and cabinet members in both countries, these men operated a clandestine cell of Zionist interest whose specific purpose was to normalise, validate and protect the idea of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Their targets were A.J. Balfour in Britain and President Woodrow Wilson in the United States. The British foreign secretary was known to be sympathetic; the American president had yet to indicate his approval.

Even before America had formally declared war on Germany (6 April, 1917), the London cabal insisted that increased pressure be brought on the President to support the Zionist cause. Every opportunity which presented itself had to be taken. Urged by the American Ambassador at London, Walter Page, the British Government decided to send a distinguished commission to the United States on the day before America declared war on Germany. [2] America’s entry profoundly altered the ground rules because neutrality was no longer an issue for the Atlantic powers, but did not change the ultimate aim to crush Germany. Lloyd George chose the near seventy-year old Arthur Balfour, former prime minister and current foreign secretary, to lead the charm offensive to Washington.

A J Balfour, British Foreign Secretary in 1917.President Woodrow Wilson whose support the Zionists wanted made public.

A.J. Balfour’s mission to the United States in 1917 proved a crucial turning point. The foreign secretary had been primed by Weizmann to speak with Brandeis when he was in Washington. The two men were introduced at a reception in the White House on 23 April and Balfour was reported to have greeted the Judge with ‘You are one of the Americans I had wanted to meet.’ [3] Why, other than to gauge the strength of American-Jewish support for a homeland in Palestine? They met several times, but not in the White House. Over the following days and unknown to the President, his Supreme Court Judge and the visiting British foreign secretary had their first private breakfast together. [4] What was a on the menu for discussion was kept secret.

Balfour was in Washington to bolster the Allied cause and he and the President’s main advisor, Mandell House, specifically discussed the terms which might be imposed on Germany once it had been destroyed. On 28 April, Balfour produced a map of Europe and Asia Minor (one of the terms used to cover the Middle Eastern states largely within the Ottoman Empire) on which was traced the results of the secret treaties and agreements with Britain and France which will be examined in a later blog. They had, in Houses’ words, ‘divided up the bear-skin before the bear was dead.’ [5] Interestingly, Constantinople no longer featured as a probable Russian possession [6] but there was no indication of a Jewish Homeland in Palestine. None.

James de Rothschild who with Chaim Weizmann, was in secret contact with Louis Brandeis in America. Louis Brandeis reported his discussions with President Wilson to theBritish Zionists, Weizmann and Rothschild

One he was informed of this, Brandeis felt obliged to intervene. He had a forty-five minute meeting with Wilson on 6 May to assure him that the establishment of a Jewish Palestine was completely in line with the President’s concept of a just settlement. The British Zionists wanted assurance that their American compatriots approved the general plan for a Jewish homeland in Palestine and would publicise their support. Pressure had to be applied on both sides of the Atlantic. On 9 May, Brandeis sent a cable to James Rothschild in which he announced the American Zionist approval for the British programme. [7]  This was followed by another secret morning discussion with Balfour and on 15 May, Brandeis reported back to Weizmann and Rothschild that their objective had been successful. The precise wording in his cable demonstrated the extent to which the leading Zionists on both sides of the Atlantic were actively influencing their respective governments. Brandeis’s cable read: ‘Interviews both with President and Balfour were eminently satisfactory confirming our previous impressions as to reliable support in both directions. Presented views in line with your program [but] was assured that present circumstances did not make Government utterances desirable.’ [8] Private conversations between the President and the visiting foreign secretary were secretly passed across the Atlantic without compunction in contravention of a variety of secrecy acts. Whose national interest was being served?

Louis Brandeis continued to press Wilson for a public commitment to a Jewish homeland, but caution was advised. His cable to James Rothschild on 23 May stated that Balfour told him: ‘if we exercised patience and allowed events to take their natural course, we would obtain more’. According to Brandeis, President Wilson was reluctant to make a public declaration because the United States was not at war with Turkey. So much for the notion that Judge Brandeis limited his activities to matters of law. His secret collusion with British Zionists should have raised concerns about a conflict of interest but that paled into insignificance when compared with his involvement in destroying a clandestine American peace-mission to Turkey.

In early June 1917 an extremely concerned Louis Brandeis made an urgent call to London. The Zionist plans were suddenly threatened by an unexpected and unwelcome intervention about which none of them had the slightest warning. Brandeis discovered that a secret American delegation, headed by the former United States Ambassador at Constantinople, Henry Morgenthau, was on its way to Switzerland. Its purpose was to convince Turkey to break away from the German-Austrian alliance, an action which would have radically altered the geo-political situation when the war ended. Indeed, if successful, it would have shortened the war.

Henry Morgenthau, former American ambassador at Constantinople.

Former ambassador Morgenthau believed that a combination of German domination and war famine was making life unbearable in Turkey. Even the Young Turks had become ‘heartily sick of their German masters’ [9] Henry Morgenthau thought that he understood the Turkish mind. His plan was to go to Switzerland to meet former members of the Ottoman cabinet and offer generous peace terms and ‘any other means’ (by that he meant bribes) to encourage them to abandon their allies. Initially Robert Lansing the US secretary of state, talked over the proposal with Arthur Balfour. The British foreign secretary suggested that since Switzerland was ridden with spies, Morgenthau should use Egypt as a base… as if Egypt wasn’t riddled with spies? It afforded the very plausible excuse that the American delegation was concerned with the condition of Jews in Palestine. Lansing agreed and an American Zionist, Felix Frankfurter, was added to the official delegation. One flaw surfaced almost immediately after Morgenthau set off for Europe. The mission had been sanctioned without due consideration to its possible consequences for Zionism.

Judge Louis Brandeis learned about the venture after the Americans had departed for a rendezvous with their Allied compatriots in Europe. [10] He immediately understood the mortal danger which any such rapprochement with the Turks would bring to the Zionist ambitions. Brandeis alerted Chaim Weizmann. They both realised that these negotiations could completely undermine their carefully constructed plans. In June 1917 there was no Jewish homeland. The very concept was at best paper-talk and had yet to be formally accepted by any of the major powers. A generous settlement for the Turks which might have left Palestine and Arabia intact, would have destroyed the Zionist ambitions before the world war had ended.

The imposing 19th Century Foreign Office in Whitehall, London.

In London, Weizmann’s contacts at the foreign office confirmed Brandeis’s anxiety. He learned that the proposed British contingent which was scheduled to join Morgenthau contained envoys whom he did not consider as ‘proper persons’ for such a mission. [11] Since when did unelected observers make decisions on who was or was not a ‘proper person’ to undertake a foreign office assignment? Weizmann turned to C.P. Scott his Manchester journalist friend, and within a matter of days was invited to speak behind closed doors with foreign secretary Balfour, recently returned from Washington.

What emerged was an astonishing acknowledgement of Zionist complicity in scuttling the American mission. In complete secrecy, Balfour appointed Chaim Weizmann as the British representative to meet Morgenthau. Not a career diplomat. Not a Jewish member of the House of Lords or Commons. He gave the task to a ‘proper person’. The leader of the Zionist movement in Britain, Chaim Weizmann, was formally appointed by the foreign office as Britain’s representative to a secret mission which, had it been allowed to progress unmolested, could radically have shortened the war. Weizmann was given a formidable set of credentials, his own intelligence officer and the responsibility to stop Henry Morgenthau in his tracks. [12]

Chaim Weizmann grasped the opportunity. The Secret Elite chose to use him for their own ends. Their ultimate plan not only for Palestine, but the entire Middle East, would have been seriously compromised had Morgenthau successfully disengaged Turkey from the war. For the Zionists it was imperative that their ambition for a homeland in Palestine was approved by one of the great Powers before the fighting ceased. Chaim Weizmann, accompanied by Sir Ronald Graham [13] and Lord Walter Rothschild met Balfour again. They put one condition on the table. The time had come for a definitive declaration of support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine. This had to be acknowledged – urgently, in case an unexpected peace closed down the opportunity. Balfour agreed. In fact he did more than agree. He asked Chaim Weizmann to submit a form of words that would satisfy the Zionist aspiration, and promised to take it to Lloyd George’s War Cabinet. [14] Here was the golden chance which could not be missed. This was the starting point for the formal declaration which would be endorsed by the war cabinet and called The Balfour Declaration.

Robert Lansing, Wilson's second Secretary of State.

Behind the scenes in America, Louis Brandeis succeeded in completely overturning the original position held by Robert Lansing at the Department of State. The plan which had been given official sanction had to be scuppered. On 25 June, while Morgenthau was en-route across the Atlantic on the SS Buenos Aires, an urgent telegram was sent from Washington to Balfour alerting the British to Morgenthau’s arrival in Europe. Lansing specifically stated that ‘it is considerably important that ‘Chaim Weizmann meet Mr Morgenthau at Gibraltar’. [15] How extraordinary. Secretary Lansing requested that his own former ambassador should meet Chaim Weizmann, the leader of the British Zionists before proceeding further. On the same day he instructed the American Ambassador (Willard) at Madrid to ensure that, as soon as he landed, Morgenthau fully understood that he was ordered to go to Gibraltar to meet Weizmann. This instruction was to be sent by ‘special red code strictly confidential’ [16] Who was in charge of American foreign policy, Lansing or Brandeis? No matter. They certainly meant to stop Morganthau.

While the choice of Weizmann as the main British negotiator was inspired, it was little wonder that his involvement, and indeed the whole mission, was a closely guarded secret. The Americans were halted in Gibraltar, ostensibly to agree how the Turks might be approached. With all the weight and authority of his Zionist credentials, Chaim Weizmann pressed Morgenthau on his intentions. Why did he imagine that the Zionist organisations on either side of the Atlantic supported his actions? Did he realise that his proposals would compromise everything that Jewish organisations had been working towards? Realising what he was up against, Morgenthau abandoned the mission within two days of Weizmann’s onslaught. He back-tracked to the comfort of Biarritz and left France on 12 July without informing Ambassador Willard of his future plans. [17]

His ego seriously dented, Morgenthau dispatched his own heart-felt complaint to Washington. Given the ease with which diplomatic telegrams could be intercepted, the Americans were appalled. He received a stinging rebuke from Lansing’s office which was as much for international consumption as it was for Morgenthau’s. The telegram read: ‘Department surprised and disturbed that your text seems to indicate you have been authorised to enter into negotiations which would lead to a separate peace with Turkey… Final instructions were to deal solely with the conditions of Jews in Palestine…under no circumstances confer, discuss or carry messages about internal situation in Turkey or a separate peace.’ [18] The aims of the Secret Elite and the political Zionist organisation began to move in tandem. Consider carefully what had happened.

Brandeis had interfered directly with the US State Department policy. Furthermore, he did not hesitate to pass secret information to Chaim Weizmann and James Rothschild in London so that Morgenthau’s plans would be thwarted, nominally by the British government. Weizmann, in turn, was ushered in as the foreign office solution. Though by 1917 he was a naturalised British citizen, Chaim Weizmann was no diplomat or civil servant. He was a Zealot for an unbending cause. By pitting a most able and skilled Jewish negotiator against a moderate (at best) American-Jewish diplomat, the Secret Elite approved an inspired appointment. Weizmann crushed Morgenthau with deep-felt passion. At an even deeper level of conspiracy Brandeis had nailed his colours, not to Old Glory, but to the Zionist flag borne by Chaim Weizmann and James Rothschild.

Weizmann the zealot lived for one purpose in 1917. His determination was absolute. He wrote to Philip Kerr, a Milner protege and one of Lloyd George’s ‘secretaries’: ‘Some Jews and non-Jews do not seem to realise one fundamental fact, that whatever happens we will get to Palestine.’ [19] And what of Louis Brandeis? He chose to promote and protect the Zionist vision of a Jewish homeland in Palestine in favour of an action which could well have ended the war before American troops landed in Europe. American lives or a Jewish homeland in Palestine? Did Louis Brandeis ever consider that thought?

Long after these events, in September 1922, President Warren G. Harding affirmed the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine against the advice of his officials in the state department. [20] One of but a few who spoke out against a well-organised Jewish lobby was Professor E.B. Reed of Yale who had served as a Red Cross worker in Palestine for three and a half months in 1919. He testified that the Zionist programme would bring oppression to the Arab majority in Palestine, that it was illegal and violated Arab rights. [21] In his memoirs, Chaim Weizmann recalled, incorrectly, that Professor Reed was a Senator. What annoyed him was Reed’s accusation that the leaders of the Zionist movement were unworthy men, and that he (Weizmann) had prolonged the war by two years by undermining the Morgenthau mission. [22] Strange that Weizmann remained in such stubborn denial. Truly, he and his associates, had prolonged that damned war.

2. Blanche E C Dugdale, Arthur J. Balfour, Vol II, p. 231.
3. Richard Neb Lebow, Woodrow Wilson and the Balfour Declaration, Journal of Modern History, Vol. 40. No. 4 (Dec 1968) p. 507 footnote 22.
4. Charles Seymour, Mandell House vol.II pp. 42-3.
5. What an enlightening insight. The Tzar having been deposed, all promises to Russia could be abandoned with all haste.
6. Richard Neb Lebow, Woodrow Wilson and the Balfour Declaration, Journal of Modern History, Vol. 40. No. 4 (Dec 1968) p. 508 footnote 26.
7. Ibid.
8. Nevzat Uyanik, Dismantling the Ottoman Empire: Britain, America and the Armenian Question, pp. 62-63.
9. Memorandum of Henry Morgenthau’s Secret Mission, 10 June 1917, Robert Lansing Papers, Box 7, Folder 2. Quoted in Uyanik, Dismantling the Ottoman Empire, p. 63.
10. Weizmann, Trial and Error, p. 246.
11. Ibid., p. 247.
12. The British chief of staff in Egypt responsible for the safety of the Suez Canal. Married to daughter of Viscount Milner’s great friend, Lord Midleton. [I. S. Munro, ‘Graham, Sir Ronald William (1870–1949)’, rev. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, []
13. Weizmann, Trial and Error, p. 256.
14. United States Department of State, Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States 1917, (FRUS) Supplement 2, The World War (1917) p. 109.
15. Ibid.
16. Ibid., p. 127.
17. Ibid., p. 129.
18. Weizmann, Trial and Error, p. 227.
19. S.J. Res. 191, 67th Congress, 2 Session, Congressional Record, Vol. LX11, part 5, p.5376.
20. The Lodge-Fish Resolution, Herbert Parzen, American Jewish Historical Quarterly, Vol. 60. no. 1 Zionism in America, (September 1970, p. 71.
21. Irwin Oder, American Zionism and the Congressional Resolution of 1922 on Palestine, Publications of the American-Jewish Historical Society, Vol. 45, No.1 (September 1955.) p. 44.
22. Weizmann, Trial and Error, p. 251.